U-turns on qualifying format and ban on team talk over radio

MELBOURNE • Formula One's controversial new qualifying system was scrapped yesterday, following a 'farcical' first session which resulted in no cars being on the track for the last three minutes of qualifying.

F1 team bosses met to discuss the backlash from the new rule, which started in Melbourne, with an unanimous agreement reached that it would be reverted to the previous format before the season's second race in Bahrain from April 1 to 3.

The format, which revolved around a rolling elimination, where the slowest driver is eliminated every 90 seconds after an initial six-minute period, caught a number of drivers off guard, with at least three being eliminated while on a flying lap.

In the third qualifying session, there were just two drivers on the track for the last five minutes - Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg - but after the three-time world champion posted a course-record time, both pulled into the pits with three minutes remaining, leaving fans underwhelmed with plenty of time still on the clock.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said while the idea was novel, he was glad that it took only one disastrous showing to force a change.

"We wanted to improve the show and we went in the wrong direction," he said.

"(Changing it back) shows there is common sense in F1."

He added that while F1 commercial boss and concept inventor Bernie Ecclestone was not "happy" about the decision to revert to the previous format, the Briton understood the decision of the team bosses.

"(Ecclestone) agreed to it," Wolff said, "I spoke to him and he sees it was the wrong decision."

Niki Lauda, Mercedes' non-executive chairman, also described the new format as the "worst decision ever made in Formula One". He added: "Everyone makes mistakes - and this is a big mistake."

Meanwhile, Red Bull Racing boss Christian Horner said that while the format was created with the "best intentions", F1 should have heeded the number of warnings and complaints before the season began.

In addition, the FIA has opened up radio communications between teams and their drivers.

Prior to yesterday's race, there was a severe restriction on radio traffic as FIA race director Charlie Whiting felt that the coaching and telling the drivers how to drive their cars had reached an "intolerable level".

However, after the teams' complaints, the FIA is now allowing strategy calls over radio which started in Melbourne. It will be back to business as usual, where teams and drivers are able to discuss options throughout the race.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2016, with the headline 'U-turns on qualifying format and ban on team talk over radio'. Print Edition | Subscribe